Va. and Norfolk Southern sign agreement to restore passenger rail to Norfolk

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Virginia and Norfolk Southern Railway have joined forces to restore passenger rail service back to Norfolk for the first time since 1977.

The two parties announced Monday that they have entered into an agreement where the Norfolk-based public railroad company will work with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to upgrade the Norfolk Southern tracks between Norfolk and Petersburg so they will be suitable for passenger trains.

The round-trip train would link Norfolk to Richmond, Washington, D.C. and cities as far north as Boston. The trains will be part of Amtrak Virginia regional service, and will operate at speeds up to 79 mph between Norfolk and Petersburg.

“Connecting Norfolk to the Amtrak network and the Northeast is a major step forward for the mobility of the region,” Thelma Drake, director of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation, said in a statement.

Funded with an $87 million rail enhancement fund grant, the project includes upgraded signaling, track extensions and connections and a track and platform near Norfolk’s Harbor Park for the passenger train. A new connection also will be built between Norfolk Southern and CSX tracks near Petersburg.

“The partnership between the commonwealth and Norfolk Southern is a perfect example of business and government working creatively, cooperatively, and quickly to meet a challenge,” said Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman.

The route between Norfolk and Petersburg is part of Norfolk Southern’s Heartland Corridor, the primary rail route serving the Port of Hampton Roads. The Heartland Corridor opened to handle double-stacked container trains in August 2010, providing a more direct route between Norfolk and the Midwest.

The project already is being designed, with construction slated to begin in 2011. The first train service is expected within three years. 

In the meantime, Virginia continues to make progress on the necessary agreements for improvements to the CSX track and with Amtrak. They must be in place before new intercity passenger rail service can begin.


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